Jazz Drummer’s Workshop

Beyond the Noteheads

Benefits and Stragies for Transcribing, Part 2

by Steve Fidyk
I lead a lab at Temple University, and at our first meeting of each semester I ask my students what music they have an interest in learning more about. Some want to gain a deeper understanding of a particular style of playing, while others want to explore specific drummers like Philly Joe Jones or Max Roach. I’ve personally found transcribing to be worthwhile in helping these students understand how the drumset functions within a musical context. On paper, a student can clearly see the rhythmic information from specific phrases, which can lead to a greater understanding of why the figures were played in the first place.

From this perspective, transcription can serve as a tool to develop a time feel for the music you’re studying, a better understanding of musical form, and a sense of the composition’s phrasing, articulation, and dynamics. Through the process of transcribing, a student’s dictation, reading, and critical listening skills can greatly improve.

Tools for the Job

The following tools can help your transcribing endeavors:

• Plenty of pencils, erasers, and manuscript paper.

• Quality headphones—I prefer noise-canceling models.

• Software, such as Amazing Slow Downer or Transcribe!, which can slow down audio, change the music’s key, and identify notes and chords.

Patience is key to getting the information down on paper as accurately as possible. It’s also important to note that some phrases that you attempt to transcribe—perhaps a solo idea from Elvin Jones or Jack DeJohnette—may defy traditional notation. Keep in mind that this is your interpretation of thatparticular phrase. I’m always looking for the effort that is put forth by my students. We each may hear a phrase differently, and that’s okay. What’s important is that students move forward and incorporate the transcribed phrases within the music that they’re playing as they learn more about rhythm. When practicing, some transcribed phrases may feel unorthodox, which is okay too. Practicing is a process of working through challenging material step by step.

Once you’ve selected a phrase to transcribe, listen to it carefully and notate what each limb is playing. For example, let’s have a look at the initial groove Harvey Mason plays on the classic funk anthem “Chameleon” off Herbie Hancock’s 1973 album Head Hunters. Here’s a rhythmic breakdown of each limb.

And here’s each rhythm combined to create one composite phrase.

Take this newly transcribed single-line rhythm and read along on a snare drum or practice pad as you listen to the recording to ensure that it’s accurate.

Here are three eight-measure phrases from jazz greats Roy Haynes, Jimmy Cobb, and Alan Dawson for transcription practice. These are some of my favorite phrases from my personal collection of transcriptions. Listen to these phrases and try to write them out before checking what’s notated here, and then compare the provided transcription with what you’ve come up with.

Roy Haynes on “Snap Crackle”

Roy Haynes Quartet, Out of the Afternoon

@00:02 /// 170 bpm

Jimmy Cobb on “Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise”

Miles Davis, In Person: Saturday Night at the Blackhawk

@05:54 /// 188 bpm

Alan Dawson with Bill Evans on “Beautiful Love”

Various Artists, Berlin Jazz Piano Workshop 1965 DVD

@02:42 /// 220 bpm

In Part 3 of this series we’ll break down each solo phrase and come up with variations on each for practice.

Steve Fidyk has performed with Terell Stafford, Tim Warfield, Dick Oatts, Doc Severinsen, Wayne Bergeron, Phil Wilson, and Maureen McGovern, and he’s a member of the jazz studies faculty at Temple University in Philadelphia. For more info, including how to sign up for lessons via Skype, visit stevefidyk.com.